In flowing free-verse poems, a 15-year-old white American girl who grew up in Japan recounts a kaleidoscope of devastations, recoveries and irreparable damage—ranging from the geopolitical to the personal.
Emma’s lived in Japan since infancy. When her family moves to Massachusetts for her mother’s breast-cancer treatment, Emma starts getting migraines. She hates “abandoning Japan” just months after the 2011 Tohoku earthquake/tsunami; she wants to continue helping her friend Madoka’s relatives shovel sludge from their drowned houses and wait for word of a missing aunt. Japan’s “endless stretches of mangled homes / the tangled mountains of debris / and all the broken towns and families” feel like Emma’s own. In Massachusetts, “I don’t know when to say what / I don’t know if something’s funny or not.” She writes a poem: “Lonely is / when the language outside / isn’t the language inside.” As Emma volunteers, helping a physically disabled adult write poetry, and meets a multigenerational Cambodian community with Khmer Rouge history, Thompson nimbly braids political tragedy, natural disaster, PTSD, connections among families, and a cautious, quiet romance into an elegant whole.
This is an artistic picture of devastation, fragility, bonds and choices; here’s hoping some Tohoku tsunami books from a Japanese perspective will join it. (poetry list, recommended resources) (Fiction. 14 & up)